On April 4, 2017, I wrote and posted an article titled Why MasterChef Is Fake. Season 7 of the American version of MasterChef had finished in September and season 8 was just a few months away. Before Season 8 was to air, I felt like I needed to speak up and say what many people were wondering or thinking at the time: MasterChef USA is fake. Season 7 is probably what most people regard to be the worst season of the show. It came after two really standout iterations of the show, but with one common denominator: suspiciously unjust winners.
After three seasons (5, 6, & 7) in which very suspicious and mysterious things had been going on, I felt like I needed to speak up and say what was on everyone’s mind. This, I hoped, would help MasterChef (if anyone was willing to read it) to recognize what they were doing wrong with the show and how they could fix it. Fast forward to season eight & nine and suddenly, things start to change.
Now, I don’t believe in any way that I have had any influence over the show. However, with 50,000 views, Why MasterChef is Fake is my most viewed article to date and regularly finishes each and every day as the most viewed article of the day on The Mastermind Site. Given that the article was written over two years ago and still sees somewhere between 50-150 views a day, suggests that some serious issues with the show are still occurring. If that many people are searching for a problem every day, something isn’t quite right with it, whether a problem actually exists there or not. Everyday hundreds of people go to search engines and type in the words “Is MasterChef Scripted?” and find my article. This isn’t necessarily an indication of the show in fact being fake or scripted, but demonstrates that there is still a lot of controversy that the show needs to address moving forward.
However, as far as I am concerned, they have fixed the major problems that we have all had with the show and that is what I want to talk about in this latest article. In Why MasterChef Is Fake, I suggested that all the controversy surrounding the show boiled down to three things: unjust winners, unsuccessful contestants, and focusing on the show, rather than the competition. Keep in mind that again, this was coming off the back of MasterChef‘s worst ever season and that they’ve struggled to maintain as many viewers since then. Now, two years later, I will discuss what the show has done well since 2017 and how they have fixed a broken formula. I will then analyze what still needs to be addressed or explained by someone involved in the production of the show as we head into the tenth iteration of MasterChef USA.
WHAT HAVE THEY ADDRESSED?Embed from Getty Images
I’d like to start this section off again by saying that I do not believe my article has in any way shaped any of the decisions the producers have made since season seven. However, I think they probably felt that the show needed fixing one way or another and made very good steps to change what needed fixing most.
Firstly, the tryouts were becoming noticeably faulty. In Season 4, someone literally got on the show for making ‘lobster popcorn’. The dish blew the judges away, but it was not any indication of how he could cook…well…real food. Soon afterward they realized their mistake and he was eliminated before the season really even got started. The audition format was becoming redundant and so in season six, the show tried something new – tryout battles. This format worked, and it worked particularly well in season six when the best battle losers were given a chance to cook again. The main problem with the battle format can be exemplified with what still stands out to me as one of the most memorable of these battles – Stephen Lee vs. Tommy Walton. Stephen went on to finish third in the competition, while Tommy finished in a commendable seventh place. The problem with this particular battle was that although Tommy had perfected his dish more than Stephen had and beat Stephen in the battle, Stephen was clearly the better cook and had more potential to do well in the competition. If the battles were conducted like they would be in future seasons, the very talented Stephen would not have been given a second chance. I think the judges have understood that just because the very best dish that you can cook is better than the very best dish that someone else can cook, it doesn’t demonstrate that you are actually better in the kitchen. Since season six, they have changed up the battle format slightly and in season nine, they found the perfect formula. Battles could be between two to five people and it didn’t matter if you cooked better than those you were up against, all that mattered was if one of the three judges saw something in you and wanted to bring you on board, into the competition. Each judge had a certain number of aprons to give out and once every apron was handed out, the real competition could begin.
To an outsider, this may seem like a counter-intuitive way of fixing an issue surrounding biases that the show had toward certain contestants. But it’s actually fixed so much that has been wrong with the show in recent years. By creating judges that are more self-interested, the judges have become LESS biased and more focused on picking the very best dishes each round and the very best cooks each round. This, I believe, is because there is more riding on it for them individually. Now they have a personal connection to their team of chefs and want to see the very best succeed. Now if a judge wants to fight for a cook they really like, like say one that is on their team, the other two judges have no reason to agree and send them through to the next round. This causes Gordon Ramsey, Joe Bastanich and Aaron Sanchez to rely solely on the quality of the dish and the quality of the cook, rather than any other external factors like entertainment value or how much a contestant might be in need of the money…(Courtney).
This format has worked beautifully, and in many ways it has worked in a manner that I think the show would have never intended. I think what also ended up happening in season nine is that creating judges who were slightly more self-interested resulted in the cast, the judges and the show overall being much more focused on the competition and the cooking rather than focusing on making the show entertaining. One could argue perhaps that season nine had the most boring set of contestants. Of the final eight the only two that were actually good for entertainment value were Bowen and Shanika. Now any other season, Shanika probably would have made it to around the final five for the drama she brought to the show. This season, she was eliminated eighth in favour of better home-cooks. How many times have we been aggrieved by people like Jeff Philbin or Cutter Brewer making it far in the competition despite pissing off the judges with their arrogance and horrible dishes week after week. It’s instances like those why I questioned the show’s integrity in that article two years ago. But I really do believe that now with this format, they are much more focused on the cooking and keeping around the most talented cooks.Embed from Getty Images
Meanwhile, all those people who would have been kept around for entertainment value in the past are now no longer on our television screens, which I really believe is creating a much more entertaining show. People who watch MasterChef usually aren’t watching for the drama, the fighting, the arrogance…they’re watching to see regular people cook amazing dishes based on challenges that the judges present to them. That’s what the show is about and that is what the show has done well in achieving two seasons running now. Looking back to some of the other seasons I would consider to be right up there with season 9 as one of the best, they also involve a final set of contestants who were clearly so talented in the culinary arts. Season 4 when the final eight were all incredibly talented, Season 2 and Season 6 when it was far too close to call between the top four, and of course Season 3 – which featured a final three of Becky Reams, Joshua Marks and Christine Ha. Season 3 is for me, definitively the best season of the show and it’s because the drama and all the entertainment value came naturally through the high-stakes of the competition and the show, not from the show keeping around crazy characters to bring something different into the mix. The few contestants who were like that, such as Ryan and Tali, were ripped apart/embarrassed by the judges and eliminated relatively early on. This is exactly how I look at season nine. Gerron was not the most entertaining guy, certainly not like the previous winner in Dino, but he was so likable and had a growth narrative that was really inspiring to watch. Gerron got stronger as the competition went on and went from being a middle-of-the-pack contestant to the very best. It was fantastic to watch and dare I say, a much less fabricated version of Luca Manfe’s story in Season 4.
Really briefly, I also want to address how they have broken their brief trend of unjust winners since Claudia’s controversial win in Season 6. Shaun O’Neele was not the most likable figure in Season 7 and the money could have easily gone to Brandi, a small-town teacher who probably needed it more. Instead it went to Shaun, who dominated the competition in a way that will probably never be matched. He was head and shoulders above the rest of the field, particularly because better home-cooks like Terry and Eric were eliminated relatively early in favour of more entertaining contestants like Dan, Nathan and David Williams. But that aside, in terms of a deserving winner, Shaun certainly ticked the box. Season 8 saw a similar circumstance. The whole season it looked as though Caitlin was getting a Shaun-esque edit and looked miles ahead of the other contestants. When she was eliminated in fourth, it completely opened the door for anyone to win. Miraculously, Dino Angelo Luciano ended up winning the season. Dino who was very likable, although also very eccentric and someone I don’t think any fan really took all that seriously, won the show. And last season is certainly another great example of a deserving winner in Gerron. Gerron’s win was so refreshing considering everything that had been happening in the other seasons of the show. Again, Gerron had a solid competition, grew as the show went on and narrowly edged out two other contestants who were pretty much on the same level that he was. The only difference between the Kentucky native and Ashley and Cesar was that Gerron had the best finale performance and won as a result. It’s funny how that works.
The show has been prone to changing things up, including their judges, but I really hope they stick with this format. I think it added a massive element of entertainment value that was conducive to making both the show and the competition more interesting. This is in contrast to previous seasons, where they’ve relied on keeping around the more flamboyant and feisty contestants in place of better home-cooks in order to keep that entertainment value – which has only led to controversy and a less entertaining product.
MasterChef is not necessarily forever fixed, but they have fixed a broken formula and produced a new way of doing the show that is very entertaining. The new season of the show is set to air in just a few months and I hope they keep this current format heading into it.
WHAT DO THEY STILL NEED TO ADDRESS?Embed from Getty Images
Most of the winners of MasterChef USA have not been controversial picks. However, in two back-to-back seasons, the show royally messed up and I think someone from the show needs to come out and explain their side of the events for it to all make sense. First off, there are laws in place to prevent anyone from rigging game shows. The stakes are even higher when money is involved, such as the case with MasterChef. But in the show’s history, two things have just not sat right with most people watching the show and those two things are – Courtney Lapresi’s win in Season 5 and Claudia Sandoval’s win in Season 6. The third example, Terry Mueller’s elimination in Season 7, happened long before the finale and as a result is a little less contentious.
Firstly, I will suggest that both of these issues may have been down to poor editing. One of the major reasons why fans of the show were upset with Courtney’s win was because she seemingly should have been eliminated well before the finale for an awful mistake – too much salt inside of a doughnut. The indication was that she had confused salt for sugar, just like her fellow contestant Leslie Gilliams did later on in the competition. Leslie was eliminated for his mistake, Courtney was not. However, the editors might have presented this blunder as more catastrophic than it actually was to create more drama and make it look like Courtney was going home in that particular episode. The way it was edited/presented to us was that she had royally messed up and deserved to be eliminated. She wasn’t, and she ended up winning the season. If this actually wasn’t as massive a blunder as they had made it out to be and they depicted it accurately to represent that, fans of the show would likely have been less upset with Courtney’s win.
Claudia’s win in Season 6 was also strangely edited. The way the finale was presented to us was that Claudia failed to do what she had failed to do all season – branch out into other cuisines beyond her Mexican roots. This was something the judges had complained about throughout the season. She was undoubtedly very talented at cooking Mexican cuisine, but MasterChef was supposed to be more than that. Every indication that we had throughout the season and the finale itself, suggested that Derrick Peltz had out-cooked and out-classed her. Claudia had cooked a tamale, Derrick had perfected a braised pork belly. Every indication suggested that Derrick should win, and then when it came down to it, Claudia won. Again, perhaps it was edited this way to hide Claudia’s win. Perhaps she was actually the far superior home cook and performed better than Derrick in the finale. But this wasn’t the story we were told, which meant the fans were left very confused by her win. That confusion turned to anger, which turned to allegations of the show being fake and scripted.
For me, at some point, the show needs to come out and tell us a narrative of how these events transpired from their perspective. Otherwise, the show will always have a reputation for being staged, fake, scripted, whatever you want to call it.
In recent seasons the show has gotten a lot of things right and in the most recent season, there are very few things I can point to and say “I don’t know how real that was.” Last season (Season 9) was immensely impressive and it’s a shame that the show is declining in weekly viewership. It’s not any indication that the present situation the show has found itself in is not up to par. Instead, it’s an indication that they’ve lost thousands of viewers due to three relatively controversial seasons between season five and season seven, while failing to properly address all the controversy and letting articles like mine circulate the internet and further fuel the discussion.
So there it is! An open letter of why I wrote ‘Why MasterChef Is Fake’ and how the show has progressed into a better television product within the last two years. Be sure to check out our other MasterChef articles and follow @realitytvtms on Twitter. See you next time!